Thrifty Traveler: South Wales offers winning getaway for couples

Rippling fields, rugged coastline and a strong agricultural community with close ties to the local food scene are just some of the reasons couples in the know would move South Wales to the top of their travel list of romantic getaways. Lovely local inns, a solid collection of archaeological assets and a great craft beer and cider scene are a few more. To boot, I found the southern part of Wales to be relatively affordable, even during the summer high season. Here’s a breakdown of the places I found to provide the best balance between bottom-line budget and authentic atmosphere.

Activities: If you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet in the capital city of Cardiff after a day of museums and cafe hopping, check out the free-to-visit Bute Park and Arboretum. Attractions include the famous animal wall with stone sculptures of creatures from around the world, a centuries-old friary, natural recreation spaces, numerous horticultural areas of interest and places for your pooch to roam and splash. They also have cafes on site. It's a great spot to kill some time in Cardiff while you take a break from the vehicle and foot traffic.

Directly adjacent to Bute Park are the extensive grounds of Cardiff Castle. A world-class heritage site with only a 12 pound entry ticket, the castle’s history spans several periods. An entire Norman keep is located on a hill within the interior grounds, and a tunnel formerly used as an air raid shelter is preserved as a time capsule complete with bunk beds, a snack counter for extended stays and vintage framed posters. The ticket price comes with a free audio guide and access to some of the elaborately decorated apartments near the clock tower in the more modern portion of the caste.

Not far from Cardiff is the town of Barry, which offers a number of hiking trails accessible for free at Porthkerry Park, along with wide open fields for picnicking and letting the dogs play off leash. There’s also a smaller park near the waterfront with access to swans, ice cream shops and a beachfront portion of the national coastal walking trail.

Archaeology buffs will want to carve out time in their road trip to visit the various Roman remains of Caerleon. The town itself is very charming, with fun pubs, an old cemetery, and a variety of other shops for the interested traveler. All of the sites on the ancient Roman heritage trail are free, including the excavated baths with interpretive exhibit, the amphitheater, museum and original barracks for the soldiers.

Accommodations: Llanerch Vineyard in Vale of Glamorgan provides a romantic, restful spot to rest your head and grab a bit to eat while still being within easy striking distance to Cardiff and all of its attractions. You can enjoy a pour at the bar and restaurant in the middle of the vines, or take a morning stroll on the groomed walking paths. Extra activities such as cooking classes and tasting sessions are also available. Midweek rates can drop by as much as half. We scored a spacious room with made-to-order breakfast for two for just 90 pounds, less than we've paid back in the States for a basic, budget-friendly chain hotel.

The Three Horseshoes in Moulton is an easy drive to both Barry and Cardiff. Located on a quiet country farm road, it’s equal parts pub and inn, with room prices starting at 80 pounds for double occupancy, including a hearty breakfast the next morning. Fun craft beers and a selection of ciders are available on tap, with complimentary views of the surrounding countryside.

Appetites: Both of the accommodation options we chose boasted on-site bars with plenty of beverage access throughout the day. They came with evening menus as well, with the minted lamb burger being the standout at Llanerch and the lasagna with garlic bread being the splurge-worthy entree at The Three Horseshoes.

Also worth a visit is Revolution near the entrance to Cardiff Castle. For happy hour, they have great half-price starter platters that are sized to share, along with small plate treats you can combine as a meal using their three-for-10 pounds deal. We enjoyed goat cheese bites, vegetarian nachos and other goodies along with drinks after spending several hours exploring the park and castle across the street. It was a great way to unwind before running some errands on foot and heading back to the parking garage for the drive back to our inn in the country.

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(Trekhound.com founder Myscha Theriault has sold her home, all her furniture and most of her other belongings to travel the world full time with her husband. You can follow her adventures on Instagram via @MyschaTheriault.)